Uva ursi has a long history of use in herbal medicine with special benefits for preventing and treating urinary tract infections. It goes by many other names including bearberry, mountain cranberry, kinnikinnick, and sandberry.
Uva ursi has been used for centuries by many different cultures. Chinese practitioners used it for kidney and urinary tract health (reported by Marco Polo). Welsh practitioners known as 'The Physicians of Myddfai' documented its use in the 13th century. Native Americans used the leaves for headaches, urinary health, incense, and as part of a smoking blend.
Here's more about the top known health benefits of uva ursi and when you might want to use it.
What Is Uva Ursi?
Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a small, low-growing evergreen shrub that forms a groundcover. It grows naturally in alpine regions and forests of North America, Europe, Siberia, and the Himalayas. Don't confuse its common name 'bearberry' with 'barberry,' which is a completely different shrub used ornamentally.
Both the common name 'bearberry' and the Latin name 'uva ursi' (which translates to 'grape of the bear') refer to how much bears love to eat the red berries that form in the fall.
Although bears may munch on the berries, it's the leaves of bearberry that humans value. They have been used in herbal medicine as an astringent and mildly diuretic herb with special properties for the urinary tract.
The main compounds in uva ursi that have been studied are arbutin and hydroquinone. They both have antimicrobial properties that can fight certain infections. Another compound, allantoin, is also found in aloe vera and can soothe skin.
Top Benefits of Uva Ursi
Supports Bladder and Urinary Tract Health
One of the biggest benefits of uva ursi is fighting infections in the bladder and urinary tract. It's been used for this purpose for centuries and is currently approved by the German Commission E for treating inflammation in the urinary tract. (1)
Not a lot of major studies have been done on uva ursi and urinary tract infections (UTIs), but it's thought that the compound arbutin plays a big role in fighting infection. Arbutin is converted by bacteria in your urine into hydroquinone. This substance has antimicrobial and astringent properties. (2)
Uva ursi also helps calm inflammation and irritation in the mucous membranes of the bladder and urinary tract. Interestingly, the isolated chemical arbutin does not seem to be as effective as using whole bearberry leaves.
Something else to consider is that research has indicated that hydroquinone works best in an alkaline environment. Since a typical western diet often produces acidic urine, an alkalizing agent like baking soda may improve the success rate of using uva ursi.
Supports Kidney Health
As a mild diuretic, uva ursi also has benefits for flushing toxins out of your kidneys. It promotes urination and can help reduce the accumulation of uric acid, which builds up when your kidneys aren't eliminating waste efficiently. This in turn may help to prevent kidney stones from forming.
Diuretics can also help with water retention and bloating that shows up for many women at menstruation. (You can also check out these other natural PMS remedies.)
Supports Postpartum Comfort
Astringent herbs like uva ursi are especially helpful for soothing pain, swelling, and skin tearing postpartum. They tone and tighten tissues that have been damaged during the birth process and calm inflammation.
The antimicrobial nature of uva ursi can also help to prevent infection and encourage your skin to heal more quickly. A great way to use it is as part of an Herbal Sitz Bath, which can be used right after giving birth.
May Help Chronic Diarrhea
Although not used frequently for this purpose, small amounts of uva ursi may help chronic diarrhea. As an astringent herb it helps to tone tissues in your digestive tract and has a drying effect. This helps to calm inflammation and bring watery stools back to normal.
Bearberry extracts have also demonstrated a powerful effect against bacteria like E. coli that can cause digestive problems. (3)
May Aid Wound Healing
Allantoin, which is an active compound in uva ursi, has demonstrated an ability to soothe skin and speed wound healing. (4) The leaves also possess antimicrobial properties that help to protect wounds from infection.
Bearberry extract also contains antioxidants and tannins that can help to lighten skin and prevent signs of aging. You can find it in serums and other skincare products.
Using Uva Ursi
Uva ursi leaf is available in several different forms but is most often taken as capsules or an extract. The dried herb can also be used to make teas and tinctures.
If you want to use uva ursi internally, it's a good idea to consult with a qualified herbal practitioner. There is some debate over the safety of the long-term use of bearberry, and taking too much at a time can lead to stomach upset. Also, getting the daily dosage right is a very individual process.
You can also find uva ursi in many different skincare products like creams, ointments, and serums. If you're looking for some relief from soreness and/or hemorrhoids postpartum, try it in this herbal sitz bath blend.
Uva ursi is a powerful herb and is not recommended for children. Most herbalists recommend it not be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding, although you can still use it in low concentrations topically.
Side effects of taking uva ursi are usually mild and include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Because it's a diuretic, people who have kidney disease should avoid it or consult a doctor before using.
There is concern over the potential of this herb to cause liver damage, especially when taken long-term. However, this comes from research done on high doses of isolated hydroquinone, not from research done on the herb as a whole. Still, it's best to error on the side of caution and use uva ursi for short periods of time. If you have existing liver problems, you may wish to avoid it entirely.
Bladder and urinary tract infections are very serious and can cause complications without proper treatment. Be sure to see your doctor for recurring and severe symptoms.
The Potential of Uva Ursi
There's a reason uva ursi has become one of the standard herbs for bladder and urinary tract health. It can have a powerful effect against infections and soothes inflammation. You may also find it beneficial for your skin and for healing postpartum.
If you find any of these benefits useful, why not try out uva ursi for yourself? It definitely has a long track record of use and has proven itself over the centuries.